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Is the Chevy Corvette ZR1 Really Worth $100,000?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro December 2016

I've never really been a Corvette guy. Corvettes just haven't really been my thing -- sort of like mountain climbing isn't your thing if you're a humpback whale. But I recently had the opportunity to try out the ultimate Corvette, the C6 Corvette ZR1, so I figured I'd give it a shot.

Before I get into my personal C6 ZR1 experience, allow me to teach you a little something about this vehicle. The C6 Corvette came out in 2005 with 400 horsepower, and the high-performance Z06 came out the following year with 505 hp. I was 18 years old when that thing debuted, and I remember just how insane it was for a car like that to have 505 hp. At the time, 500 hp was a mythical figure, reserved solely for exotic cars and boats that have to be slowly guided through the Panama Canal because they're almost too wide to fit. Not for Corvettes.

And then, in 2009, they really blew everyone away. That's when they released the ZR1, with an almost unbelievable 638 hp. It beat out the Corvette Z06's power output by the equivalent of a Corolla and the standard Corvette's by the equivalent of a WRX. It was insane. Ridiculous. Wild. Brutal.

It also started at $105,000 -- a figure that would balloon to $112,600 by the end of production after the 2013 model year. That's a lot of money for a Corvette. So, is it worth it?

On first glance, I would say the answer is no. I admit it has a few cool tricks over the standard model: GM's Magnetic Ride Control suspension comes standard, for example, and there seems to be carbon fiber just about everywhere you look, including the front fenders. There are bigger brakes, there's a different body kit, and there's that unusual hood that lets you see... the engine cover.

But let's be honest here: Most people are never going to have any idea that this car is different from a standard Corvette. And they especially won't know if they ever see the interior, because the entire thing seems to be standard Corvette fare -- right down to the cheap plastic climate-control vents, the far-too-conspicuous parking brake and the pixelated green displays with old-school General Motors font.

I have to admit, poking around the car, I couldn't help but think, "Six figures... for this?"

Then, I took it on the road. I'm not of the opinion that a car's interior needs to be beautiful, leather-lined or perfectly crafted, as long as the car's performance matches the asking price. And in this case, it seemed like it would work out: On paper, the ZR1 performs like a Ferrari that costs twice as much. Who cares if the exterior isn't that special and the interior isn't that nice? I'd rather save $100,000 if I can get all the performance without some exotic quilted Italian leather on the seat cushions.

I first took the ZR1 on normal roads -- and my first impression was, once again, disappointment. "This is it?" I thought to myself. "This is all?" When you drive a Ferrari or a Lamborghini, even at 30 miles per hour in a subdivision, you're looking at cool styling details in your mirrors or just ahead of you, you're sitting low, you feel the engine, and you hear the exhaust. In the ZR1, it just feels like you're driving a Chevy. Six figures... for this?

I had roughly the same reaction when I finally took the ZR1 on some curves. Don't get me wrong -- it's a fast car, it's fun to drive, and it's quite engaging. But despite upgrades to the steering and that fancy Magnetic Ride Control suspension, I didn't quite find the Corvette as stealthy as I thought I would. Here I was, driving the ultimate Corvette; I thought I'd feel like I was behind the wheel of a slightly bigger Miata, or maybe a muscle-car take on the Porsche 911. Not so. It just doesn't feel as stable.

And then came the highway.

Here's the thing I learned about the Corvette ZR1. It might not have the most distinctive exterior. It might not have the most impressive interior. It might be a bit dull on normal roads, and it might be a little disappointing through the curves. But it is massively, massively, massively, massively, massively fast when you push down the pedal.

Watch the video, and see for yourself. The first time I floored the pedal, I was jaw-droppingly amazed at the acceleration. It's the kind of speed where you start to wonder if the people at Disney World should just get rid of all the roller coasters, buy a few ZR1s, and have tourists floor the pedal in a straight line. The thrill is the same, and the upkeep will be significantly cheaper.

I jammed the gas pedal a few times on the highway, and I was tremendously excited each time. Then, I took the ZR1 back to its owner. And here's what I discovered: I probably wouldn't have paid $100,000 for it back when it was new. But given that the average price of a used 2009-2013 ZR1 on Autotrader is now just $66,900, well... let's just say this thrill ride becomes more alluring with each passing month of depreciation.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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Is the Chevy Corvette ZR1 Really Worth $100,000? - Autotrader